Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reflections on tyranny

Authority and power are two different things: power is the force by means of which you can oblige others to obey you. Authority is the right to direct and command, to be listened to or obeyed by others. Authority requests power. Power without authority is tyranny.

- Jacques Maritain, "The Democratic Charter," Man and the State (1951) pg. 126

In 1959 the Castro regime seized power in Cuba at gun point then outlawed all political opposition along with free speech and association.

Over the next 52 years a Stalinist regime led by Fidel Castro built a repressive apparatus that systematically denied and today continues to deny human rights to all Cubans

Ten years later in 1969 Muammar al-Gaddafi seized power in Libya at gun point and initiated 42 years of a nightmarish dictatorship.

The world just learned that Fidel Castro supposedly resigned his post as Communist Party Chief five years ago in 2006 because he said so today. The press is reporting this as if it had some importance. The press forgets that
Muammar al-Gaddafi in 1979 resigned all his posts and the Libyan government claims that he holds no formal position today yet he is the de facto head of state.

The important question is not what title different members of the dictatorship have but when will the Castro brothers and their co-conspirators renounce their ways or be driven from power so that Cubans can regain their sovereignty?

Without a doubt the regime in Cuba like that of Libya has demonstrated its power to impose fear on the populace but as it defames, imprisons and attacks dissenters it demonstrates that it has no authority.The dictatorship in Cuba has power but no authority to back it up and by Jacques Maritain's definition it is an example of tyranny.

Tyrants don't respect constitutional titles and procedural niceties which explains why it matters not if Fidel Castro resigned this or that title because as long as he and his brother exercise their tyrannical rule it does not matter as Muammar al-Gaddafi, the de facto leader of Libya, has demonstrated in Libya since 1979.

The following are a series of brief reflections by thinkers stretched out over centuries on the nature of tyranny.


“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins”
- Soren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard (1848)


“The only tyrant I accept in this world is the 'still small voice' within me. And even though I have to face the prospect of being a minority of one, I humbly believe that I have the courage to be in such a hopeless minority.”
- Mohandas Gandhi , Young India March 2, 1922


“Under conditions of tyranny it is far easier to act than to think.”
- Hannah Arendt


Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

- William Pitt, parliamentary speech, Nov. 18, 1783


[W]hen a people shall have become incapable of governing themselves and fit for a master, it is of little consequence from what quarter he comes.

- George Washington, letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, Apr. 28, 1788


Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm-- but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.

- T. S. Eliot , The Cocktail Party, (London: Faber and Faber, 1974), p. 111


“When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.” - Plato


“Tyrants are seldom free; the cares and the instruments of their tyranny enslave them.”
- George Santayana, Dominations and powers: reflections on liberty, society, and government (1950)

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